Disney child star Annette Funicello dies at age 70

Disney child star Annette Funicello dies at age 70

Disney child star Annette Funicello dies at age 70

In this 1963 file photo, singer Frankie Avalon and actress Annette Funicello are seen on Malibu Beach during filming of ‘Beach Party,’ in California in 1963. AP Photo

Annette Funicello, America’s girl next door who captured the innocence of the 1950s and 1960s as a Disney Mouseketeer and the star of beach party movies, died on Monday at age 70, the Walt Disney Co. said.

Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, from complication of multiple sclerosis, the television and film studio said.

Her family told celebrity news television program “Extra” that Funicello had been in a coma.
 “Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney legend,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.

“She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent,” he said.

 Funicello first caught the public eye as a teenager in the 1950s when she was one of the original members of Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Club.” She went on to star in a series of beach movies in the 1960s including “Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and the hit “Beach Blanket Bingo,” released in 1965 and co-starring teen idol Frankie Avalon.

In later life, she was remembered for her valiant fight against multiple sclerosis, a crippling disease of the nervous system that she developed in the late 1980s.

It led the once-vivacious singer and actress to depend first on a cane, then a walker and finally a wheelchair.

Funicello was born in Utica, New York, and the family moved to California when she was a child. Her father, Joe, was a mechanic and her mother, Virginia, devoted herself to her daughter’s show-business career once she became a Mouseketeer.

Funicello married Hollywood agent Jack Gilardi in 1965 and the couple had three children, Jack, Jason and Gina. The couple divorced in 1981, and she married racehorse breeder Glen Holt in 1986.